Southport - an up and coming foodie destination
PUBLISHED: 19:04 09 April 2014 | UPDATED: 20:51 21 October 2015
Candyfloss and fish and chips are giving way to fine dining in this Edwardian resort, as Rebekka O'Grady discovers
Southport may be the quintessential coastal resort with a funfair, pier and theatres. But if you thought that condemned visitors to a diet of candyfloss, ice cream and good old fish and chips, you would be wide of the mark.
Today, as well as it’s famous Edwardian Lord Street parade, Southport is famous for food, in particular fine dining. And there are two recent developments adding further spice to the culinary scene.
The Warehouse, already one of the best-known places to eat, has taken on a Michelin-starred chef called Matt Worswick.
Matt, 26, took the reins as head chef at the beginning of March and wants to bring a traditional English element with a twist. The chef, from Liverpool, gained a Michelin star at Glenapp Castle in Scotland, and has previously worked at the two Michelin star Le Champignon Sauvage in Cheltenham.
‘I’ve been away from the north west for nine years so it feels really good to be home,’ he said. ‘Working at Glenapp Castle was such an incredible experience, especially achieving a Michelin star in my first role as head chef. But this place has amazing potential.’
The Warehouse, which originally opened in 1996, was transformed in 2010 into the ultra-chic restaurant and bar, now co-owned by Liverpool footballer, Steven Gerrard and Paul Adams, who also has The Vincent.
Matt added: ‘My style is to try and use as many local ingredients as possible, including local fish. I’ll be using Formby asparagus and potted shrimps from Southport. My approach is not to baffle the customers with wacky and wild ingredients.
‘I want to champion lesser known foods and use them as much as possible, but not scare away the local customers. Ultimately, I want people to come to the restaurant and have a great meal without it breaking the bank.’
Another relative newcomer is Eighty Eight Bar and Brasserie on Lord Street. Housed in the newly renovated Carlton Hotel building, this contemporary and sleek brassiere opened in December 2013, and hopes to add a younger edge to Southport.
The £2million refurbishment of the old hotel into apartments, bar and restaurant is stunning. The building was near derelict after being empty for a decade. Downstairs is a bright and welcoming bar area, and the second floor welcomes diners for lunch and dinner. In the summer months the seated patio area on the balcony will be open for customers to enjoy dining al fresco.
Jack Harper, 27, and Bryan Sharples, 67, are the two directors. ‘We recognised this as a classic building and saw instantly it would be an excellent project. It was pretty astounding that we managed turn around a shell in six months. There were a few curve balls along the way but it was fun,’ said Jack, a private trainer from Birkdale.
The reaction to the restaurant has been positive, with many commenting on how Eighty Eight has injected something vibrant into the town. ‘It has been a whirlwind experience so far,’ said Lewis Dixon, 23, the restaurant manager. ‘People have seen this project from the start, from rubble to restaurant.
‘Many come in because they recognise the building from their youth. There’s a lot of nostalgia here, and we want to continue that legacy with the restaurant.’
Head chef, Neil Faux, 33, consulted celebrity master chef Peter Gorton for the opening menu. The pair visited Southport College and provided demonstrations of the dishes for aspiring chefs studying at the college.
‘It was great to collaborate with Peter. However, the team and I now want to move into seasonal menus using local produce, so we are never stuck in one place. We want to ever evolve and maintain a high standard with a relaxed atmosphere - a modern English brassiere with a difference. The Chateaubriand has been extremely popular and we’re looking to introduce sharing platters.’
Neil, who has previously worked in London, Australia and more recently, in the National Museums of Liverpool, thinks that Eighty Eight will be an excellent place to establish himself and younger talent: ‘We want to keep close links with the college, and show students there that you don’t need to move to a big city to work in a high class restaurant, you can work locally.’
One of Southport’s most established eating places is The Vincent on Lord Street, a tend-setters when it opened in back in 2008 and is still a favourite with its cosmopolitan approach to dining.
Head chef Andrew Carter and his team have accumulated two AA rosettes. The 31-year-old lives in Chorley and has been at The Vincent for over three years. ‘We have an eclectic menu – we’re not afraid to listen to the customer and try new ideas,’ he said.
The Vincent’s sushi bar is an extremely popular. ‘It adds another great dimension to the restaurant. I think I’d be hanged outside if we took that off the menu!’ laughed Andrew. Hotel manger Alan Richmond added: ‘He tweaks the menu to meet the demand of the market. Our menu is ever evolving, and we pride ourselves on keeping things fresh.’
Southport’s prowess as a centre for culinary excellence will be showcased next month with the food and drink festival, running from May 30 to June 1. It will attract more than 25,000 visitors.
Creme de la creme
Another food business to receive national recognition is French patisserie, Lilibet’s of Paris. Elizabeth Connard, 31, trained at the Cordon Bleu school in Paris and graduated second in her class in 2007.
She opened her own shop in 2008 and has recently appeared on ITV’s Britain’s Best Bakery. Both Elizabeth and her assistant Charlie are extremely proud to be one of the top 60 bakeries in the UK, and found it to be a great experience.
‘I expected to be more nervous,’ said Elizabeth. ‘I’m a perfectionist, so I wanted everything to be immaculate. The camera crew came down to the shop, and then we had to travel to the Lake District for three days to film the heat. The 18 hour days were tiring, but it was an invaluable experience and I would do it again!’ She was able to show off her skills by making her favourite cake, a Fraisier, which is filled with strawberries and crème pâtissière.
Lilibet’s has seen a surge of business since the show aired earlier this year. ‘People have travelled from as far as Derbyshire to buy one of our cakes – it’s amazing,’ she said.
The name Lilibet stemmed from Elizabeth’s childhood nickname, so she kept it when she opened. ‘Although I loved Paris, it was great to come back to Southport and set up a business in my hometown.’
The patisserie, based on Stanley Street, pays homage to Parisian shabby chic. Stunning window displays of cakes and bird cages entice the customer inside, where they can take a seat on ornate Louis XVI style chairs. It’s a little piece of Paris in Southport.
Southport has plenty of its plate – and it’s all delicious.